Zara has a knack for landing itself in sticky situations. The Spanish retailer has come under fire for ripping off other brands, using skinny models in a “love your curves” campaign, producing anti-Semitic shirts, and even sewing a dead rodent into a dress.
The latest controversy comes after shoppers in Istanbul reported finding alarming messages hidden on tags inside the clothing. According to the Associated Press, the notes came from Turkish workers who say they were not paid for their labour at the recently closed Bravo Tekstil factory. The manufacturer has reportedly refused to pay three months of wages plus severance allowance.
“I made this item you are going to buy, but I didn’t get paid for it,” reads the tag, which urges shoppers to support the workers’ cause. The notes also draw attention to the factory’s unfair working hours and unsafe working conditions.
Inditex, which owns Zara, said it’s working with a trade union to establish a fund to help workers affected by “the fraudulent disappearance of the Bravo factory’s owner.” The owner, Inditex explained, took the money Zara and other fashion companies had paid, and vanished without paying the workers who had already made the garments.
“This hardship fund would cover unpaid wages, notice indemnity, unused vacation, and severance payments of workers that were employed at the time of the sudden shutdown of their factory,” Inditex said in a statement. “We are committed to finding a swift solution for all of those impacted.”
More than a year has passed since the factory closed, and the hardship fund has still not been created. An Inditex spokesperson confirmed to Fast Company that no money has been transferred from Inditex to the workers who made the garments, forcing the former employees to take matters into their own hands.
In addition to the tags in stores, Bravo workers have launched an online petition on change.org demanding compensation. The petition explains that though union representatives have been negotiating on their behalf, the fashion brands have been dragging out the discussions and countering with lowball offers that amount to just over a quarter of what the workers are asking for.
“We have all laboured for Zara/Inditex, Next, and Mango for years,” reads the page. “We made these brands’ products with our own hands, earning huge profits for them. We demand now that these brands give us the basic respect to compensate us for our labour. We demand no more than our basic rights!”
As of this writing, nearly 39,000 people have signed the petition, which is hoping to reach 50,000 signatures.